There’s never been a better time for churches and schools to work together, two educators told an audience of clergy during a recent webinar and podcast.
“We are all in this together, and the way we will get through is with the faith we will have with each other and the support we will give to one another,” Tawana Grover, Grand Island Public Schools superintendent, said during “At the Threshold: Ministry in Liminal Time,” which has focused on the Great Plains Conference during the pandemic.
Grover told the webinar hosts — the Rev. Ashlee Alley Crawford, clergy recruitment and development coordinator, and Rev. Dr. Shelly Petz, clergy faith and wellness specialist — that with the sudden advent of home-based learning, volunteers are in great demand.
“(Many) parents are not equipped to help assist children with remote learning,” she said. “This is an opportunity to lean in to the families, where you can be an extended support, because sometimes they may not have a grandmother or someone who’s able to watch the children so they have adult supervision, but they might not be able to provide clear academic support to those students.”
Tabatha Rosproy, who developed and introduced a preschool in a Winfield retirement community, said that the pandemic has brought out socioeconomic differences in every community.
“We’ve got to do better for the families in our communities who don’t have access to certain resources that other families do. That lack of equity in communities in glaring, even more now than it ever has before,” said Rosproy, chosen as 2020 National Teacher of the Year by the Council of Chief State School Officers.
Since the pandemic, Rosproy said, families have been in need of support and coaching with all of the changes, especially at-home education.
“We can be incredible partners here,” she said. “Guide your congregations to think about what is good for the whole community. What can we do to impact everyone and not just our home families?”
Rosproy said churches and their members could provide “emotional support, practical things.” She said some churches have stepped up to help schools, including providing a place for students to gather when there’s a late start at school.
“If you hear about someone in your community that is in need of a resource, (who) doesn’t have access to a healthy person who can help them with child care on days that school is off, reach out and help them with that,” she said.
Churches also can provide locations for social distancing, quiet places to study and have use of the internet, she said.
“So often it’s hard to work at home,” Rosproy added.
Grover, entering her 25th year as an educator, said the pandemic brought into light the economic disparities in her school district, where 70% of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.
“We were able to see the food insecurities in a different way and the needs of our families,” she said, describing the lines for free lunches the district was distributing at the beginning of the pandemic.
“For students and families, there’s a lot of anxiety, a lot of fear. The fear comes with so many different emotions,” Grover said. “As a school district, we are a main lever for equity.”
Schools, Grover said, are the support system for many families.
“I’ve run into many single parents who may not have extended family here or have not built connections,” she said. “Parents themselves need other people they can lean in on and trust and have conversations with.”
The beginning of the 2020-21 school year, whether classes are in person, online or a hybrid of the two, will be a challenge for educators, students and their families, both Rosproy and Grover agreed.
“We’re all starting over. We’re all going to have to be at the same starting point and the same end point,” Rosproy said. “We’re not expecting the same things we were last year.”
“We could be the difference-maker in how their lives go forward,” Grover added.
The Great Plains Conference offers two grants for churches wanting to assist their local school districts. Education partnerships are matching grants of up to $1,000 for new partnerships and collaborations. The application form is available here.
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